This weeks post features another author Q&A, this time with author of the Spider and the Fly, Claudia Rowe.
I reached out to Claudia after reading her book the spider and the fly, a non-fiction book which I thoroughly enjoyed! ( I have written a previous port on it, check it out here!) . Claudia kindly answered some questions for myself and this blog and I hope you will like to read the answers as much as I did!
1. What made you want to become a writer, primarily non-fiction?
As a kid, books truly were my friends. Very often my best friends. Novels kept me company when I was alone, made me feel safe when I was frightened. I remember my grandmother looking over a book report I’d written in the 3rd grade and announcing, “You will be a writer.” It stuck in my head. But I didn’t consider nonfiction until college. I’d been piddling around, torturing myself over short stories, until I took a class in Writing the Personal Essay. It was a revelation. Suddenly, my work had an energy to it, a pulse. After that, the die was cast. I was going to make my living as a writer, and true stories were the way.
2. When having conversations with Kendall was it always the plan to write a book, and in a memoir/true crime genre?
I knew I wanted to write a book that stemmed from the place where I was living, a small city in upstate New York, and there were aspects of Kendall Francois’s story that mirrored themes I wanted to explore – particularly denial. That part was clear from the start. But only after we began talking did I realize how much my own past was part of our dynamic. I wanted to be honest about this with readers, so I needed to explain what had brought me to a place in life where I was corresponding with a murderer. Hence, the memoir.
3. I felt this book was more about the relationship between yourself and Kendall and the concept of human behaviour, was it always the intention to focus on this rather than the actual crimes?
My intention was to try and understand Kendall Francois as a person, not some sort of nightmare creature. I’d spent many years reading about crime, and at a certain point it felt like there wasn’t a great deal more to be gained from depicting yet another gruesome act – just, why? But I had not read much nonfiction that explored the humanity embedded within these stories. Novels, of course, have tackled this terrain extensively. But nonfiction, not as much, which is understandable. It brings you to some rather dark places.
4. What was your process for writing this book like, was it a book that took a while to write?
It took an insanely long time – 18 years from the moment I started to when it was published – with a long break in the middle. I began reporting this story as traditional journalism, or true crime if you like. But after five years, it became increasingly clear that there was something running underneath – the chess match between Francois and me – that I needed to explore. At the time, I just wasn’t equipped to sit with that kind of material, let alone write about it. So I stepped away. I told myself the book was too hard, and I tried to move on with my life. But I never put away my notes. For eight years, they sat in boxes, stacked around my desk – until one night I absentmindedly began flipping through an old draft. And here we are.
5. When you first started writing this book, did you have a goal for it?
My original goal was a book that would answer the question we all have: how does a person become someone who does things like this?
6. After writing this book do you have a different outlook on crime and the meaning of the word evil?
Yes. I believe most of what we label “evil” can be more accurately understood as evidence of mental illness. Is hatred a sign of mental illness? Maybe not. But sadism is.
7. Do you plan to write any more books, potentially a fiction novel?
Right after The Spider and the Fly, I published an e-book called Time Out that looks at the true case of a 13-year-old who was sentenced to 23 years in prison. And I’m at work on a new book now, also nonfiction, about foster care. But I do have a novel percolating. It’s about friendship and betrayal, and what happens to a tight group of girls as they grow up.
8. Do you have any advice for aspiring writers and authors?
Ignore the disapproval of others. Read everything. Know that writing is work, often exhausting and sometimes humiliating. And if you think you’re a genius, you’re probably wrong.
9. Is there anything else you would like to share on ‘The Spider and the Fly’?
I am grateful to every person who reads this book and sits with the thoughts it brings up. Thank you for these excellent questions.
I again would love to thank Claudia for answering these questions, it is much appreciated!
Many thanks, Caitlin x
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